The future in the crease: Biron and beyond

Programming note: The Flyers salary cap chart here at BSH has been updated to reflect the Flyers current salary cap situation. I'd recommend taking a quick peek before reading this since the numbers can be overwhelming.

It's no secret that the Flyers biggest offseason question mark is the goaltending position. Martin Biron, while playing quite well in the postseason, didn't have all that great of a season for the Flyers. And his backup, Antero Niittymaki, has proven to be nothing but inconsistent himself.

And fate just so has it that both goaltenders are headed to unrestricted free agency come July 1, which means the Flyers options are essentially as limited as the salary cap dictates. That's where the problems arise.

Paul Holmgren has given Biron glowing praise in the past couple of days, saying that he "played great" and "gave us a chance to win every game." But given the Flyers delicate salary cap situation, Holmgren probably cannot give Biron -- or any goalie for that matter -- anything more than the $3.5 million he earned in 2008/09.

Biron has gone on record saying that he loves playing in Philadelphia, but does that mean he'd take a pay cut to stay here? There's no doubt that there are other teams in the NHL that look at what Biron brings to the table, especially his excellent playoff run a year ago, and like what they see. It's easy to comprehend Marty getting more than $3.5 million from another team on the open market, and he would be silly not to at least test the waters come July.

That leaves the Flyers without a goaltender, of course. There's Niittymaki, but given that a good number of fans haven't been happy with the performance of the number one guy, it's hard to see them accepting the anointment of the number two guy to the top spot.

Could he be kept around as the backup? I'm sure the Flyers love that option, but I could see another team seeing that "Olympic MVP" moniker attacked to him and taking a good shot at him. If you were Antero and you knew that you'd probably just be a backup in Philadelphia again, wouldn't you try to go somewhere you have a shot at starting?

So where does that leave the orange and black? The current system has literally zero NHL options in it, unless you consider the signing of Swedish goalie Johan Backlund to a one-year deal as the next coming of Pelle Lindbergh. Backlund was a relatively good goaltender in the Swedish Elite League, finishing this past regular season second in the league in GAA and fifth in save percentage. He could surprise in training camp, but there are obviously no guarantees and the Flyers cannot count on him one bit since he has never played in North America.

After Backlund, there's Scott Munroe and Jean-Sebastien Aubin, two guys that will never see frequent roles in the NHL again, and a slew of prospects that haven't impressed many scouts. Don't expect the Flyers goaltending problems to be solved from within any time soon.

Now, of course, there's an entire market of NHL goaltenders out there this offseason, but are any of them an upgrade from Biron and Niittymaki?

The Inquirer reported yesterday that the Flyers are interested in Florida goaltender Craig Anderson. Anderson caused a bit of a stir in South Florida this season with his excellent play in relief of regular starter Tomas Vokoun, and there were rumblings that Anderson would steal the job away from the veteran. Vokoun wound up getting his job back just in time for the Panthers to miss the playoffs.

Anderson will be a free agent on July 1 as well, but he doesn't have as much bargaining room as Biron or Niittymaki. He will command a larger salary than the $550,000 he recieved last season, but it's highly unlikely that he will get the $3.5 million that Biron made. As the Inquirer article points out, though, Anderson is criticized for being too inconsistent to truly thrive as an NHL starter. In other words, he could be another Niittymaki.

Manny Fernandez had a mediocre season with the best team in the league, Nikolai Khabibulin had an excellent season in Chicago but he makes way too much money ($6.75 million) for him to be an option here if the Flyers want to do anything else this offseason, and Dwayne Roloson is just plain old. The Flyers were rumored to be looking at Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen back at the trade deadline, but is he an improvement over the Flyers current crop?

The most intriguing option, in my opinion, comes just up the Turnpike in Newark. When Martin Brodeur went down with an injury early in the season, it was up to Kevin Weekes and Scott Clemmensen to fill his gigantic shoes. Many expected Weekes, who was the more seasoned guy, to step in and play most of the games. But it was Clememensen who shocked the hockey world by not only getting most of the workload, but playing excellent hockey in the few months that Brodeur was out of the lineup.

He effectively kept the Devils in first place in the Atlantic Division and allowed them to stay on pace for their eventual third place Eastern Conference finish. Clemmensen went 25-13-1 in 40 games, posting a .917 save percentage and a 2.39 goals against average. He made just $500,000 last season and is heading for the open market. If Clemmensen can repeat his performance from last year, he'd be a solid choice for the Flyers.

But since nothing is easy in the world of goaltending, there's no guarantee Clemmensen will be as good as he was last season. This position is really, honestly, a total crapshoot. The Flyers can go with what they know in Biron and Niittymaki or they can keep one and sign a new one and see what plays out. Or, they can go with two new guys. Given the guys that are available in free agency this season, that would be flirting with danger.

The fact of that matter is that there teams aren't going to give up the stellar number one goalies they already have via trade because it's so hard to get one of those type players. If the Flyers want to get one of their own, they're more than likely going to have to get lucky in the draft. Until that happens, though, it's a less than perfect world.

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